To say that the Game Boy Advance (GBA) is the best of the entire Game Boy family may be a tad rhetorical. It was the more powerful system, it eventually had a backlit screen and the clamshell design made the whole system easier to fit inside a pocket. You also didn’t need to buy batteries anymore since the SP version had a rechargeable battery. Being the more technologically advanced (no pun intended) system would do that to the previous generation. No these reasons aren’t why I think that the GBA is the best of the Game Boy line, it’s the best because of a few things and one of them is how the GBA can practically play the entirety of the Game Boy and Game Boy Color (GBC) libraries with no problem whatsoever.
Now if you’re thinking, “But Ben, backwards compatibility on the Game Boy isn’t anything new. Why does that make the GBA the best?” Well let me explain. Myself and possibly a few others may fancy ourselves retro video game collectors but have a bit of an issue with our bank accounts. We may not be able to go out and buy older Game Boys like the original 1989 ‘brick’ or the classic teal GBC. As much as we want these old systems for collecting sakes we need to pick and choose what to get. Even if we were to get a modded Game Boy that IS backlit it’s still an original Game Boy only with a few bells and whistles. It will take 4 double A batteries to use and good luck if you happen to snag a GBC only game because those aren’t going to work on that modded Game Boy. You’ll need the GBC for certain games to work properly. Luckily those games can be pointed out thanks to the shape of the carts but if you only have the one Game Boy, you’re going to need the other one which may drain more money out of your wallet. That’s where the GBA comes in because it can play every single Game Boy and GBC game that’s out there. Doesn’t matter if it’s the original version or the SP, a GBA will play any Game Boy game. For those like me who want to grow their game libraries and not worry about if it can play on my system the GBA is the way to go. Sure the older carts will be sticking out quite a bit if you have the GBA or the SP version, but that little eyesore is a small price to pay when being able to play your copy of Link’s Awakening DX or Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins.
Besides the GBA being the retro collector’s best friend, the games that came out on the system are quite good and highly sought after. Sure Nintendo’s personal line of Mario games were all ports of older games, but for someone who didn’t own a SNES until much later in his life the Super Mario Advance series was a great way to play classic games. Until my brother got Super Mario World (Mario Advance 2) we haven’t played this classic game in over 10 plus years. Besides Mario you had the gems like Metroid Fusion, Golden Sun, Advance Wars, Zelda: The Minish Cap and Fire Emblem. It was because of the GBA that North Americans were finally able to experience Fire Emblem and Advance Wars. These titles stayed over in Japan until Nintendo finally brought them over and now these titles are adored all over the world. Third party titles also made a splash on the system. Konami made an amazing Castlevania game while Capcom had a slew of different Mega Man titles to choose from. Square Enix revived the Final Fantasy Tactics series on the system as well as re-released classic Final Fantasy games. Granted they went up to VI while skipping III but they updated the graphics for I and II and put both games on a single cart. THQ developed some of the best Sonic games at the time with Sonic Advance 1-3 whereas all SEGA really did for Sonic on the GBA was help make a really bad port of Sonic 1. The GBA did have a ton of ports of older NES and SNES games but I can look past that since now classics like A Link To The Past and Super Mario World were now portable and in some cases made better. Metroid Zero Mission and Kirby Nightmare In Dreamland are remakes of the original Metroid and Kirby’s Adventure which were on the NES. Both games were remade from the ground up and are now considered the definitive way to play these classics. Nintendo did release original versions of NES games for the GBA but made them cheap and easy to get. The games for the system are top notch and I find myself hunting down GBA games more than I do any other system I own.
Now as much as I love the GBA, that doesn’t mean I don’t like the versions that came before it. I still have my original Game Boy Pocket and would LOVE a modded brick Game Boy and a modded teal GBC in my collection, however I just don’t have the money for those right now. The GBA takes out the need to get the older systems at all so if you want a Game Boy system I would shoot for the GBA first and save up for the other versions later. Modded versions of the GBA do exist so if the original model feels the best in your hands but you really want a backlit screen you can find one. It may be a bit more expensive but they are out there and are completely worth it. The Game Boys are truly a testament to handheld and portable gaming, and the GBA perfected it with style and substance. Sure the handhelds Nintendo put out after are great and the Switch is a phenomenal machine, but the GBA got it right the second you opened the box.